NASHVILLE — Running back Derrick Henry needed 223 yards against the Houston Texans on Sunday to reach 2,000. Instead, he took the ball 34 times for 250 yards and two touchdowns to carry the Tennessee Titans (11-5) to their first AFC South title since 2008.
Tennessee fans get to witness history being made and a 41-38 heart-stopper in the process.
The Titans and those that have been loyal to them since arriving in Nashville have seen a 2,000-yard rusher, but nothing like this. For my part, I was 14-years-old in the midst of my freshman year at Reitz Memorial High School in 2008. Low by Flo Rida and Lollipop by Lil Wayne were among the Top 5 songs in the Billboard Top 100. Nothing about Tennessee registered with me at that point, but now there are NFL records falling left and right.
It is my good fortune to be able to witness them first-hand and chronicle them here.
Derrick Henry: Alone At The Top
2,027 yards is the new Titans franchise record for a single season. It belongs solely to Derrick Henry.
When his team needed him most, the running back broke his own club record of 238 rushing yards. Henry’s 250 rushing yards tied for the 13th-best single-game total in the NFL since 1948, per Tennessee PR. He would win back-to-back NFL rushing leader titles regardless of result after a death in the family caused Vikings running back Dalvin Cook to miss Week 17. Henry could have cruised for the personal achievements.
He went above and beyond to ensure his franchise could host a playoff game.
“I’m just happy to be a part of this team, a part of this organization, be team mates with the guys on this team, Henry said postgame. “They’re my brothers. Great accomplishment for us collectively, and just glad we were able to finish with a W in the division, be able to keep playing. Got shaky at the end, but we all stuck together and was able to get it done.”
Henry did more than get it done.
In his fifth professional season with the Titans, the Alabama product became the first player in NFL history with five career games with at least 200 rushing yards and two rushing touchdowns. Henry set a career high with 17 rushing touchdowns in 2020. It is the second-best total in franchise history. Hall-of-Famer Earl Campbell is the only back to do more with 19 in 1979.
Henry is not the only reason Tennessee finds itself in this position. His efforts, though, contributed most to the team’s success.
The Road Ahead
Now, playoff football comes to Nashville.
As the fourth seed in the AFC playoffs, the Titans will host the fifth-seeded Baltimore Ravens (11-5) in the wild card round. Kickoff is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 10 at 12:05 p.m. CT on ESPN. It has been a part of coach Mike Vrabel’s stated mission since arriving in Nashville in 2018 to secure home field advantage for postseason contests. It took some dramatics on Sunday, but they got the job done.
“I just — I mean, it’s never easy in this league, and I hope that everybody appreciates that,” said Vrabel. “We don’t take winning for granted. Proud of our guys, our coaches, for the work they put in, and the entire organization. Excited for our owner, for Amy and her family, to be able to do this. To be able to clinch this in Houston where she grew up, where our team was founded, I think there is a lot of reasons.”
It will take everything Tennessee’s got let to sustain in January.
The Titans are 4-4 this season against teams that made the NFL’s new expanded playoff. Vrabel’s defense played out of its mind on Sunday getting early stops, an interception and three sacks to keep Deshaun Watson in check as best they could. No team in NFL history has made it to the postseason with less than 19 sacks until Tennessee did this year.
18 was the regular season total and, man, did they need every one of them.
Henry & Co.
Derrick Henry will be the focal point of everything the Titans do moving forward. Rightfully so.
Heroics on offense and a defense that gets turnovers have been staples all year long, however. It remained the case on Sunday with A.J. Brown racking up 1,075 yards and 11 touchdowns on the year. The receiver set a career high with 10 catches for 151 yards and an insane 52-yard reception with :18 remaining in regulation. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill made that pass and remained ruthlessly efficient at the position to guide his team into the playoffs.
Kicker Sam Sloman was called up off thew practice squad in the week leading up because of COVID-19 issues with Stephen Gostkowski. He doinked a game-winner in from 37-yards out to secure the playoffs.
Tennessee’s success is offensively skewed. But, with well-rounded efforts in critical moments (and a little luck), Henry’s team can make it deep into the playoffs once again.
Featured Image: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports.